Therapeutic Products Bill

The New Zealand Skeptics Society is a non-profit body that exists to promote critical thinking. We are frequently contacted by the media to provide informed comments on science and pseudoscience, and support evidence-based policymaking. We offer public education on rational thinking, helping people to understand the gap between proven ideas and nonsense. We think that one of the most important jobs MPs have is to protect the citizens of New Zealand from the harm caused by unproven products and services.

We are generally pleased with the direction of the Bill and its attempt to update the Medicines Act and regulate Natural Health Products. It will be a positive step to have a comprehensive set of rules that help to ensure that medicines, medical devices and Natural Health Products are safe for New Zealanders to consume.

However, we consider that some important changes will be required if the proposed legislation is to achieve its intended purpose, which is to provide an appropriate level of assurance that products imported and supplied within New Zealand are both safe and effective.

Our proposed changes are as follows:

Explanatory Note Part 4, Issuing Market authorisation for NHPs

The statement that market authorisations for NHPs differ from the provisions relating to medicines “to reflect the fact that the risks associated with NHPs are generally less than the risks associated with medicines” should be removed, as this is an unsubstantiated claim. There is no evidence given to support this statement, and it gives a misleading impression that NHPs are safer than scientifically tested and controlled medicines and devices, whereas in reality we know that many natural health products sold in New Zealand have been prepared with ingredients that are dangerous, including homeopathic nosodes (“containing” diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis and typhoid), black salve, colloidal silver, spider venom, digitalis and much more.

4.a Proportionate risk

We are concerned that only immediate risk may be considered when evaluating Natural Health products. We see many NHP practitioners make claims that their product is a panacea that is able to cure all ills. These kinds of claims carry a long-term risk of erosion of the public’s health literacy, and are likely to lead to people believing that NHPs are efficacious, and consequently trusting these practitioners when it comes to serious health issues like cancer. Sadly, even in a country as small as New Zealand, we have regular news stories about people who have died from treatable diseases because they have trusted their Natural Health practitioner.

See our comment on Section 122 for more details about this issue of false assumptions about the safety of NHPs.

9.3.c Market authorisation of NHPs

We do not understand why there would be a different rule for NHPs from medicines and medical devices – surely any therapeutic product should be able to prove its efficacy or performance. NHP practitioners talk about how their products can help treat medical conditions, so why shouldn’t they have to show efficacy? This issue is repeated throughout the legislation.

10.2 Controlled Activities

We think that surveys (e.g. “92% of respondents reported that their skin looked healthier after using our cream”) should also be subject to appropriate regulations, and be added to this list. This should ensure that people’s subjective opinions and the outcomes of poor questionnaire methodology or data sampling are not presented as facts, and therefore would protect against misleading both the public and regulators.

11.1 Who can carry on a Controlled Activity

NHP practitioners of different modalities have a wide range of both education and regulation, with many having little to none of either – and certificates often being able to be purchased over the internet. With this lack of standardised and robust control over their practice, it seems imprudent to give them the ability to carry on controlled activities in the same way as health professionals such as pharmacists, doctors and veterinarians.

We are also concerned that here, and in other parts of this legislation, “health practitioners” are allowed to carry on controlled activities. Although most health practitioners are evidence-based, and medically trained, the HPCA Act 2003 also includes chiropractors and osteopaths as “health practitioners”. Neither of those are evidence-based practices, and are widely considered by medical professionals to be pseudoscience.

12.3 Restrictions on advertising NHPs

We are very happy to see, in principle, that there will be a prohibition on giving false or misleading information about NHPs, although we are concerned that the details of the legislation in this Bill don’t actually support this.

13. Efficacy of NHPs

We are extremely concerned that, unlike efficacy for medicines and performance for medical devices, there is no requirement for NHPs to show that they are effective at treating anything.

We think that, at the very least, information about any proven effectiveness of Natural Health Products should be collected alongside safety and quality information – even if this list does not match the list of allowed claims. This will ensure that health professionals will know which of the allowed claims are backed by scientific evidence, and which are not.

However, we would ideally like to see NHPs treated like any other health product, where claims of their efficacy can only be made where there is robust evidence to substantiate the claims. To do anything less than this does a huge disservice to a public who are trusting this legislation to protect them.

Simply put, if efficacy does not have to be shown for NHPs, we believe people shouldn’t be allowed to make any therapeutic claims about them. If NHPs are omitted from a requirement to have their efficacy proven, they shouldn’t be able to subsequently make claims of efficacy. If, when they obtain market authorisation, they can show efficacy in being able to treat certain medical conditions, only then should those conditions be added to their allowable health claims list for advertising. Allowing NHPs to skip the requirement to give evidence of their efficacy, but then allowing them to make claims of efficacy in their advertising, is a case of letting them have their cake and eat it too – and it’s obvious this is not in the best interests of consumers.

We’re sure that NHP sellers will be able to advertise their products effectively without needing to make unsupported therapeutic claims about them. We already see practitioners using vague words and phrases like “supports”, “promotes” and “winter ills and chills” to avoid falling afoul of the current Medicines Act regulations. Ensuring that nobody can make unsupported claims about NHPs under the new legislation will just mean that Natural Health practitioners will continue to use this kind of advertising to make the same empty promises they are already making. There is no need to weaken the law for these products, especially when this weakening would come at the expense of the public’s health and safety.

We are concerned that some NHP practitioners could use an NHP product’s inclusion in this list in their marketing material and elsewhere to imply that the product is effective. We think that it should be made clear in the Bill that inclusion of an NHP in the scheme does not equate to the product having any health benefits, and we would like to see inclusion of a clause outlawing the use of this list in this manner.

18. Naturally Occurring Things

We think that this section needs to also cover naturally occurring things that haven’t been changed from their naturally occurring state, if the person selling them for a therapeutic purpose has not made any changes to them.

30.3 (a) Antioxidants

Although we understand that antioxidants are generally used as a preservative, we are concerned that therapeutic claims are often made about antioxidants, and so they’re often treated by advertising as more than just an “additive”. We’re not sure if they belong in the NHP ingredient list in (1), but they seem like a special case that might not fit (3) as well as the others do.

31. Homeopathic Products (Low Concentration NHPs)

We consider that Low Concentration NHPs (better known as homeopathic treatments), or any other NHP that is administered, packaged or prescribed in a manner akin to the way a medicine is packaged, administered or prescribed, should be required to have market authorisation, and should not be removed from the scheme due to having “sufficiently low risk”. This would allow for control of the risk of harm from contaminants, as well as mitigate failure to seek conventional treatment and minimise financial harm. NHPs for Animals

We see no reason why administration of medicines (1,b,v) and use of medical devices (1.b.vii) on an animal are covered in this section, but not administration of NHPs to animals ( We think that for consistency, and to provide adequate protection for our furever friends, animals should be covered by

61.4 Traditional Use

We are extremely concerned in this part of the legislation by the inclusion of “traditional use” as a supposed method of substantiation of a health claim. Historical or traditional use of a health product, “natural” or otherwise, is most definitely not evidence of efficacy and should not be considered substantiation. Many ineffective or dangerous natural health products have been used by NHP practitioners in the past, and continue to be used today. Considering historical use as a form of substantiation is a type of logical fallacy, usually called the “appeal to antiquity”.

In an ideal world consumer protection should take precedence over the desires of NHP practitioners. We would expect that NHPs, like all other medical products, would need to have evidence of efficacy before anyone was able to make health claims about them. On the face of it, it seems outrageous that any New Zealand legislation would consider allowing people to make health claims about a product that were not backed by robust scientific evidence. Medical practitioners all over New Zealand are concerned about the increase in use of NHPs in our country, and this legislation is likely to worsen the problem.

However we understand that, sadly, we don’t live in an ideal world where laws are always there to protect consumers from harm. Therefore, if this idea of traditional use remains in this piece of legislation, we would like to see the word “substantiated” removed from this section. It seems disingenuous at best to claim that evidence of historical or traditional use substantiates any kind of health claim. Scientific evidence can substantiate a health claim, as the scientific method seeks to uncover the truth. But traditional use only tells us that people have believed in the past that the product may work, and bears little relation to the truth of whether it actually works.

We think that “traditional use” needs to be adequately defined in this legislation, and should only include NHP that have been used for many decades, and where there are no known direct harms from the history of its use.

61.5 Pharmacopoeias

Pharmacopoeias usually contain thousands of medical products and their uses. Some of these, such as many countries’ national pharmacopoeia, are evidence-based and medically accurate. But others, especially those that deal with NHPs (such as the Pharmacopoeia of the People’s Republic of China and others), are not evidence-based, and contain listings of thousands of natural treatments that are either ineffective or dangerous.

We notice that nowhere in the regulation does it mention which pharmacopoeias will be included, and we are understandably concerned about the possibility of the defunct Natural Health Product Bill’s pharmacopoeias being included in this legislation, as most of them (with the exception of the British, European and United States Pharmacopoeia) are not based in science. For reference, the pharmacopoeias that we consider to be an issue, and are concerned may be included in this legislation, are the:

  • American Herbal Pharmacopoeia
  • Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia of India
  • British Herbal Pharmacopoeia
  • European Scientific Cooperative on Phytomedicines (ESCOP)
  • German Commission E Monographs
  • Indian Herbal Pharmacopoeia
  • Pharmacopoeia of the People’s Republic of China
  • United States Pharmacopeia and National Formulary
  • World Health Organisation Monographs on Selected Medicinal Plants

If any of these unscientific pharmacopoeias are to be used, we would expect at the very least that there are tight controls over which products from them are included, with products excluded if they are considered to be dangerous, removed if they are later found to be dangerous, and no new products added without a thorough vetting process for their safety.

62.4 Removal of Health Benefit Claims

We would like to see the inclusion of the ability for anyone in New Zealand to apply to the Regulator to have a health benefit claim removed from the allowed list for an NHP, if evidence shows that the product is ineffective, misleading or dangerous.

112. Personalised NHPs

Allowing an exception to these regulations for personalised NHPs, when the regulations are written to ensure our safety, appears to be a dangerous loophole. If the point of this legislation is to protect people from ineffective and potentially harmful health products, that’s what this Bill should do, without any exceptions. This new legislation is a good opportunity to be able to increase the protections available to consumers.

112.5 Who is an NHP Practitioner

Part 5.a of section 112 appears to allow anyone to be considered an NHP practitioner just by selling an NHP to a consumer. These non-regulated practitioners could avoid these regulations all together simply by mixing a custom NHP formula for a consumer. If this legislation is meant to protect people, it should do that effectively. We would like to see regulation around who can call themselves an NHP practitioner, through professional bodies, like there currently is for medical professionals.

124. Market Authorisation of NHPs

The current proposed Bill and explanatory note make it clear the intention is that applications for market authorisations for NHPs would be automated, and lodged through an online portal with applicants making a declaration that the criteria for an authorisation are met, and that the applicant’s declaration that the criteria for an authorisation are met is prima facie evidence of that fact. This will undoubtedly allow products that do not meet the criteria, including those that are unsafe, to go to market and leave the onus on individuals and consumer protection organisations to point out any issues and go through a time-consuming process before they can be removed.

Given the extensive history of NHP practitioners making unsubstantiated, often fanciful, claims about their products, we think that section 124 of this Bill should be modified to ensure that all market authorisations for NHPs are manually screened, and the veracity of the information provided in applications should be tested. We believe that trained medical scientists would be the correct people to perform this screening, rather than individuals from within any particular NHP discipline.

193.2 What is an Advertisement

We are happy to see that the definition of advertisement in this section includes websites, social media posts and other online media formats.

194. Advertising

Overall this section is positive, and offers a good level of protection for consumers (with the obvious issue that the list of permitted health claims for NHPs is not robust enough to ensure that the public is not misled about the efficacy of an NHP).

From experience, we know that NHP practitioners are often happy to verbally make unsupported claims about the efficacy of their products/services, even if they never make these claims in written material. It appears likely that this practice will continue under this new law. We would be keen to see the addition of a section of this legislation that covered any claims made verbally about an NHP in a similar way to how section 194 does for advertising.

We also think that this new legislation would be the ideal time to prohibit direct advertising of prescription medicines to consumers, as it currently is in most countries worldwide. It has been an embarrassment to New Zealand for many years now that we are one of very few countries that allows direct advertising of medicines to consumers, although so far any efforts to fix this issue have not been fruitful.

192-199. Fast Track

We believe that this legislation should provide a fast-track method for handling reports of:

  • unauthorised health benefit claims (section 192)
  • general misrepresentation (section 190)
  • misrepresentation as someone allowed to perform an activity (section 191)
  • providing misleading or incorrect information to the regulator (section 199)
  • advertising without market authorisation (section 193)

This fast-track process should require a temporary suspension of these activities within a short time (such as 7 days), pending an investigation, where clear evidence of a breach has been provided. If such conduct has occurred, it would likely be very difficult for the regulator to establish breaches, except where these are brought to their attention. We think that potentially unsafe products should be removed from the market without delay, and this would in turn disincentivise any person wishing to deliberately subvert these regulations for profit.

376. Infringement

We applaud the inclusion of infringement provisions in this Bill, and look forward to seeing their proactive use.

380.3 Consultation

We think that consultation with only “people likely to be affected” by these rules is not broad enough, and this should be explicitly extended to all New Zealanders. This will ensure that important rules such as the allowed health benefit claims for NHPs receive sufficient input from the public.

NZ Skeptics put their Money where their Mouth is

From April 1st 2023 the NZ Skeptics, along with the NZ Association of Rationalists and Humanists, are offering a one hundred thousand dollar (NZ $100,000) prize as part of the NZ Skeptics Challenge – and this is definitely not an April Fool’s joke!

Until recently the well known skeptic Stuart Landsborough, of Wanaka’s Puzzling World, offered a $100,000 psychic challenge. After three decades of supposed mind readers and spirit talkers attempting to win his prize and failing, he ended the challenge upon his retirement. The NZ Skeptics consider their new challenge to be the “spiritual” successor of his amazing work.

To celebrate this event, the NZ Skeptics are publicly challenging three prominent Kiwis, all of whom are profiting from making unproven claims, to apply for the prize money:

  • Ken Ring, who claims he can predict the weather and earthquakes by looking at the moon (his predictions are available in his $120 almanac)
  • Kelvin Cruickshank, psychic, who believes he can communicate with the spirits of dead people
  • Kirsten Taylor, naturopath and herbalist, who sells a homeopathic, herbal and flower essence remedy that she advertises as being able to help people sleep

To win the prize, and conclusively prove skeptics wrong, these people would need to agree to a controlled testing protocol, where their ability would be examined scientifically and rigorously. An independent judge would oversee the testing to ensure both parties followed the agreed protocol.

Craig Shearer, chair of the NZ Skeptics, has had enough of people making bold claims but not backing them up with evidence.

“Far too often, we see people make the news because they have a supposed special ability that defies science. We’re pretty sure that science is right, and they’re wrong – and we’re putting our money on the line to show this. We’re willing to put in the effort to test these people, and if they can show they’re real, they deserve the money. We see plenty of claims, backed up by testimonials from “satisfied” customers, but these anecdotes don’t constitute good evidence.”

Hema Paterson, president of the Rationalists, agrees.

“If anyone’s going to talk about how they can speak to ghosts, heal the sick through prayer, or see auras, they’d better have some pretty good proof that they’re not deliberately or accidentally deceiving people.”

Although the challenge is available through invite only, the public are welcome to submit their name and the details of their ability to the NZ Skeptics if they think they can do something that defies well-established science. Or they can send in the name of someone else they think is pulling the wool over people’s eyes. Anyone can send the Skeptics a tip-off by emailing them at, or by visiting The rules of the challenge can be read at

UFOs – the camera doesn’t lie…

…It Just Tells Dirty Great Big Fat Whoppers!

by Anthony Wharton – St-Helens, UK


I continue to be fascinated with the Swiss farmer who has, in my opinion, been engaged in the longest running UFO hoax on record. My fascination comes from the obviously terrible quality of his hoax and the lameness of his excuses for failure, combined with the fact that there are so many people who still believe him.

Not having looked at the Meier case in over 10 years, seeing as it is Meier’s 85th birthday in February, I decided to mark this milestone by taking a fresh look at the case to see if anything has changed.

You can watch a short video clip showing Billy Meier’s 8mm movie clips on YouTube

Throughout my life I have had several genuine UFO sightings which remain unexplained to this day and this is the reason I became interested in the UFO subject. After researching the phenomenon for many years, I came to the conclusion that most UFO cases, especially photographic cases, are nothing more than made up stories and hoaxes. One of the most controversial UFO cases on record is the Billy Meier case.


Eduard Albert “Billy” Meier is an 84 year old, one and a half armed, Swiss farmer. He was born in 1937 and he claims to have been in contact with extraterrestrials named the “Plejaren” or, formerly known as, the “Pleiadians”.

His claims of extraterrestrial contact were first published in the late 1970s/early 1980s. What made Meier different from previous UFO contactees is that his photographs were of, what appeared to be, structured craft. However, many people soon grew very suspicious of Meier’s claims due to the vast number (100s) of crystal clear, daylight photographs of the UFOs.

After reading so much nonsense written by Michael Horn (Billy Meier’s authorised American media representative and official spokesman) about how it is impossible to replicate the effect of Meier’s photographs without millions of dollars or access to Hollywood special effects equipment, I decided to see just how difficult it would be to create some fake UFO photographs using nothing more than miniature models and fishing wire. (Back in 2004) I made some tiny UFO shaped models and suspended them on fishing line on the end of a long rod and then photographed them using a 35mm camera. The results are conclusive proof that Billy Meier’s UFO photographic evidence can be very easily replicated and shows that anybody can set themselves up as a UFO contactee.

But to Meier and Horn it all makes perfect sense when expressed in dollars and cents, pounds, shillings and pence. (The full annual membership fee to the FIGU cult used to be $631 Dollars, plus take into account all the revenues from years of book, DVD/video sales, interviews, presentations, documentaries etc). You can see my examples of fake UFO photographs I created on Flickr.


Watch the Wedding Cake UFO video clip on YouTube. 

The wedding cake UFO photograph is an image showing what Meier and Horn claim is a very large extraterrestrial spacecraft hovering over Meier’s small van. I commented on this photograph (back in 2004) and suggested that what it really shows is a small model close to the camera. After many heated debates with Meier and Horn they once again challenged me to back up my claims and I gladly decided to accept this second challenge. So once again using nothing more than a flying saucer shaped model and a 35mm film camera, I managed to very easily replicate the effect of the wedding cake UFO photograph. My photographs show what appears to be a very large flying saucer hovering over some very large vehicles and are almost identical to Meier’s photograph. 

What we are seeing in Meier’s photographs is not extraterrestrial but nothing more than an optical illusion, which is created by photographing a small model very close to the camera, a technique called false or forced perspective. Meier was unable to produce photographs of real UFOs, so he faked his photographic evidence using miniature UFO models to back up his fictitious story. So there we have it, proof that replicating the effect of even Meier’s hardest piece of photographic evidence, really is a piece of cake! 

Note the use of carpet tacks on the wedding cake UFO model.

In fact, the carpet tacks offer another devastating indication of fakery by Meier, if one will only notice it. When looking at how they are placed between the spheres at the middle, one can see one of them is missing. It can actually be found laying on the surface of the model, apparently after it simply fell off, unnoticed by Meier, as well as by many of the believers in this case!

This is clearly highlighted in the photograph of the wedding cake UFO, pictured outside Meier’s property.


Back in 2009 I was contacted by an elderly man named Victor Gibbs via E-Mail. Victor had done some optical research and believed that he had discovered evidence that the Billy Meier UFO film clips and photographs are hoaxed. Victor had been retired for some years, but earlier in his life he worked in the gardening industry for 30 years. This included working in all aspects of the profession including  maintenance, forestry, plantation, landscaping, farming and tree surgery. Victor looked at the Billy Meier photographs and film clips on the internet and after his research and experience as a gardener, was in no doubt that Billy Meier used miniature trees in some of his film clips and photographs.

See the photograph of Victor standing next to a miniature tree which he believed was roughly the same size as the tree that Meier used several times in the video footage and a number of other photographs. He was actually confident that Meier’s tree was much smaller than this tree and certainly no bigger than it.

Meier claimed that the wedding cake beam ship video and other photographic stills contained fully sized trees. Victor believed this to be completely untrue and was sure that Meier zoomed in on the tree in the wedding cake beam ship video from a distance to make it look like it was fully sized, but in actual fact in doing so he has revealed that the tree is quite small. Note how the miniature tree which Victor is standing next to looks to be the same size as Meier’s alleged tree. As Victor pointed out to me, if you look at the size of the drum lid that the gentleman is holding then the actual size of the tree could even be much, much smaller in reality, possibly even as small as 30 inches in height, Victor said that this is what is commonly known as a tabletop Christmas tree. Also, when the photograph of the drum lid is compared to the photograph of the wedding cake UFO, it is strikingly obvious that this is the object that Billy Meier used to stage the whole event (the photograph of the gentleman holding the drum lid was taken at Billy Meier’s organization/cult, known as FIGU, the photo clearly shows several of the Harcostar Universal Containers in a storage room. The person holding the lid of the container has been identified as Phil McCainey).

With regards to the extraterrestrial craft shown in Billy Meier’s videos and photographs, Victor believed that they are fundamentally flawed. Victor spent many years in the Royal Air Force, both flying and observing aircraft. He was also an avid and keen photographer. He felt that Meier’s craft are too crisp, clear and in focus to be distant aerial objects and that they are actually miniatures suspended close to the camera lens. Victor also pointed out that there is no visible atmospheric haze or pressure around the objects or ground reflected light. Victor also stated that the alleged UFOs are very dark on their underside which Victor believed to be a tell tale sign that they are very small and close to the camera lens. In the close up photographs, there are no shadows of the objects visible on the ground. As Victor pointed out to me, in the photograph of the wedding cake UFO hovering over Meier’s small van, notice how Meier’s tiny van clearly casts a shadow to the left yet the alleged huge UFO leaves not even one inch of shadow on the ground! They are, in Victor’s opinion, easily replicated hoaxes. 

To sum up, after examining Billy Meier’s video and photographic evidence and his own research, Victor believed that either the UFOs being  captured on film by Billy Meier were tiny in size and piloted by beings only a few inches high, or Billy Meier’s photographic evidence was simply created using tiny models and miniature trees. Looking at both of these explanations it is clearly obvious which is the more probable.


Another question I put to Billy Meier and Michael Horn was…. 

Why does what clearly looks like the same miniature tree seem to appear in many of Meier’s photographs and film clips, yet the photography was taken years apart and at different locations? Their reply was that the reason the tree looks similar in certain photographs and film clips is just simply a coincidence, they also maintained that all the trees in Meier’s photographic evidence were real huge trees, some as tall as 40 to 50 feet in height or even bigger. My reply to them both was that what they are saying is complete nonsense and just simply impossible within the realms of nature. See the image showing a photograph and 2 stills from Meier’s film clips, notice how we see the same almost identical miniature tree in all 3 images, yet these images were taken years apart and at different locations. I pointed out to both Meier and Horn that the odds of nature producing the same identical tree at different locations spanning several years would probably be 1 in several trillion or more, or actually just simply impossible!

The same tree appears to have been used in these different photographs and films because the trees all share the same physical characteristics and the tree is the same size and shape even after 6 years. Also, the photographs and the films were each taken in different cities, there is no evidence that a real live tree ever existed in any of these locations, and the official explanation from Meier and his followers is that the extraterrestrials erased people’s memories about the tree, but they left the photographs and films alone!

Another controversial piece of tree evidence is the Hasenbol UFO photograph. This UFO was photographed by Meier in 1976. Michael Horn, Billy Meier and his associates claim that the UFO is behind the tree branches. I recently took a fresh look at the Hasenbol UFO evidence and simply turned the photograph into a negative image. The photo enlargements and the computer analysis images all clearly reveal that  the small model UFO is clearly infront of the tree. This new analysis finally puts this argument to bed once and for all! 

Meier and Horn also claim that the UFO hovering over Meier’s van is a huge extraterrestrial spacecraft and is partially obscured by the tree foliage. Again, I decided to take a fresh look at this photograph. Using computer analysis, I simply enhanced the brightness and also turned the photograph into a negative image. The results conclusively prove that this is completely untrue and completely false. As we can can clearly see from the digitally enhanced analysis images, the UFO is clearly in front of the tree and no tree foliage or branches are visible or obscuring any part of the UFO whatsoever, proving that what we are seeing is a small model UFO very close to the camera, another myth finally dispelled!

What Meier and Horn are referring to is simply distorted pixelation, due to the extremely low quality of the image. Many years ago I asked Meier if he would send me some high resolution images along with a fragment of extraterrestrial material for independent scientific analysis, needless to say my request was refused! (It is now 18 years since I requested a sample of extraterrestrial material).

Meier also put forward a lot more very controversial and highly suspicious evidence, including photographs of what he claimed were 2 female extraterrestrials, named Asket and Nera. The photographs are crude fakes showing dancing girls from the Dean Martin show, Meier created these images by simply photographing his television screen!

Meier also put forward a photograph of a flying dinosaur, he claimed he took this image when he travelled back in time 65 million years with his extraterrestrial associates in a pleiadian time machine, Meier simply photographed the image from a book!

One of the most ridiculous pieces of evidence that Meier ever put forward is a photograph of what he claimed showed an extraterrestrial named Alena holding a laser gun. And again, looking at this photograph more recently with fresh eyes and examining it much closer, I am in no doubt whatsoever that the alleged extraterrestrial in the photograph is either Meier himself, wearing a woman’s wig, or Meier’s EX wife, Popi Meier, simply dressed in a 1970s golden disco glitter suit. It is obvious that Meier made the infamous laser gun from junk, including items such as a garden hose pipe attachment, tin foil and bits of plastic and other tat (somebody give that man a Blue Peter Badge). And looking at the photograph of the 1960s vintage toy space gun which I recently found on an internet website, it is pretty obvious where Meier got the red plastic barrel from, either Meier was getting sloppy or he has a wicked sense of humour. Looking at the photograph of the alien Alena and Popi Meier, notice how they both have very similar dark frizzy hair. Also, something else that I noticed is, in all the available photographs of Alena the left arm is always obscured from view, is that because it is Meier that we see in the photographs or is it just simply another coincidence that Meier’s left arm has been amputated?

Meier also put forward a photograph of what he claimed showed the landing marks from one of the flying saucers. Meier claimed that these crop circles were over 2 metres across in size (over 6 feet). Back in 2005 I contacted a crop circle researcher and I Sent him the photograph and asked him for his professional opinion. He said that after studying and comparing Meier’s photograph to images of real crop circles, he was in no doubt whatsoever that Meier’s photograph shows tiny man made circles, roughly the size of a dinner plate and certainly no bigger than 15 inches across. I also decided to take a fresh and closer look at this image, if you simply compare the size of the circles to the size of the visible blades of grass and leaves, one can clearly see that there is no possible way that the circles can be over 6 feet across in size!

The vanishing UFO film clips are just simply edits known as jump cuts and if you watch them very closely you can very easily spot the cuts, as pointed out by several special effects experts who have also viewed all of Meier’s film clips.

Back in the 1970s, Meier claimed to be in possession of a number of metal alloy and crystal samples. Meier claimed that these samples of material were extraterrestrial in origin and came from several different planets situated in outer space. Meier put forward the metal alloy sample for analysis. It turns out that an actual metallurgist did analyze the metal sample and this is what was revealed:

Page 214 of the 2001 book And Yet…They Fly! states the following:

A metallurgist from the University of Arizona examined one of the metal fragments and analyzed it as a simple ‘cooking pot metal’ or cheap cast metal alloy used to produce such things as tin soldiers.

It seems that the main focus of the Billy Meier case for the last 2 years has been the corona virus pandemic. Meier claims that he was the 1st person on the planet to predict this whole event with information provided to him from his extraterrestrial associates.

You can read Meier’s corona virus prophecies here.

Meier has been accused many times by many people of taking the information attached to his prophecies from credible sources after certain actual events have already happened and after the information has already been documented and published. Credible sources such as scientific/medical/astronomy journals and nature publications, Meier has been accused of then republishing the information with an earlier and false date, designed to make it look like he predicted certain important and historic events.

If anybody is clutching at straws and wondering if there might just be a chance if Meier’s photographic evidence is genuine and whether his story might be true, the following paragraph and accompanying photographs will help you answer that question.

The 2 computer analysis images show a Type-4 spacecraft over Mount Auruti, Switzerland, photographed by Billy Meier on 29 March 1976. The two computer-enhanced images made from this photograph reveal a great deal about this picture. The images show, in the words of Ground Saucer Watch who did the computer analysis (back in the 1970s), “evidence of a linear structure above the craft”- in plain english, a string or rod supporting the object. The structure is equally clear in the computerised enlargement in the second image. In addition, study of the focus in this picture indicates that the object is close to the camera and is therefore small – about 8 inches (20 centimetres) across, not 23 feet (7 metres) as Meier claimed.

And the final nail in the coffin…

Watch Popi Meier, Meier’s EX wife, admitting on camera that the whole thing is a HOAX!

The fact that most 5 year old kids tell more convincing “fibs” than Meier does not seem to bother the faithful, his believers and his disciples. And that is my real fascination – the human capacity for gullibility, or motivated belief. If it has any limits, they have yet to be documented.

The Meier case is, if nothing else, a natural experiment in human gullibility with the conclusion that there appears to be no limit to this phenomenon.

Just as I expected, it would appear that very little has changed with regards to the Billy Meier UFO case. In Ufology, Billy Meier is considered by most researchers as nothing more than a laughing stock, but it appears that Meier might just have had the last laugh. According to several websites, Meier’s net worth is currently around $1.5 Million Dollars, plus if you take into consideration all the money he must have spent over the last 50 years, that’s not bad for a few wobbly models if the information on those websites is correct?

I received an email from Michael Horn on Sunday 30th January 2022. Michael said “I must credibly rebut all of the information published over the last 10 years”, he also made reference to USAF personnel and astronauts who had allegedly authenticated Meier’s case and photographic evidence. 

This is simply Meier and Horn buying more time and deflecting attention away from themselves for failing to confront and answer my truths. It is now time for both Meier and Horn to explain and answer all the above questions, instead of just simply hoping that people will forget about Meier’s abysmal and sloppy photographic mistakes!

Authentication of the Meier case can only be evaluated and based on the photographic evidence that Meier put forward in the 1970s. As this has all been thoroughly debunked and proved to be fake, and has been easily replicated by myself and others, NO other information attached to the case can be considered as evidence, or is worth scrutinizing. To quote Ground Saucer Watch who analysed Meier’s photographic evidence in the 1970s…

“It is our opinion that all of the analyzed photographs are hoaxes, both crude and grandiose, and that they should not be considered evidence of an extraordinary flying craft. All of the evaluated frames can be duplicated with a basic camera and darkroom equipment…the incidents are an updated, 1980 version of the George Adamski claims of detailed photographs and contacteeism with space people.”

In my opinion, all of Meier’s 60,000 contact notes including all of his prophecies, past, present and future, have nothing to do with UFOs and extraterrestrials whatsoever and should be considered as nothing more than toilet paper, or at the very best fish and chip wrappings. In my opinion, Meier falls under the same category as fake psychics and fake mediums, $1 dollar fortune tellers, victorian seances, scam faith healers and all other practicing charlatans!

As for anybody claiming to have authenticated Meier’s case and photographic evidence as genuine, including USAF personnel, astronauts etc, this is a complete fabrication and simply untrue and amounts to nothing more than conjecture and fantasy!

It is now 18 years since I requested a fragment of extraterrestrial material from Meier and Horn for independent scientific analysis. To mark this milestone I have decided to release a new photograph of a fake UFO, this black and white photograph was created by myself using nothing more than a small model suspended on strings. This photograph alone proves that the Meier case is a hoax!

I am also ordering Meier and Horn to pay me the grand sum of $1,000,000 Million dollars in damages for failing to meet my challenge and due to the FACT that I have successfully proved beyond any reasonable doubt, that the Meier case is simply nothing more than a work of science fiction, created by Meier’s overactive imagination. This money MUST be paid, this is what integrity demands, there can be absolutely NO argument, dispute or doubt now, especially considering their abysmal failings.

After reading this article, anybody who might be considering looking into the Billy Meier UFO case, BE WARNED! You will have more success finding some live forever tablets, knitting fog or finding some rocking horse poo then you will in finding a single grain of truth in the Meier case!

Keep your eyes open for the long-awaited new colour photo book/DVD, co-produced by Billy Meier and Michael Horn-I Was Abducted By Pixies, released in July 2022 and yours for only $100 dollars including shipping, available in all good book shops soon (probably)!

As with many UFO cases there is evidence both for and against, it is up to you to look at both sides of the coin and make your own mind up as to what you really believe. One should always keep an open mind, but not to the point where your brain falls out!


By Anthony Wharton, St-Helens, UK 

Cult Dining: The Lotus Heart and the legacy of Sri Chinmoy

Bronwyn Rideout investigates the connection between the Lotus Heart restaurant in Christchurch and Sri Chinmoy.

The Lotus Heart Restaurant has been on my radar for almost as long as I have been living in New Zealand. I was introduced to it by a vegan friend in 2007, when it was still located in Cathedral Square. The restaurant was clean, airy, bright and well-appointed, but the prominent place given to the hard-to-miss wall-sized portrait of a beatific Indian gentleman made it obvious that place was a bit… different.

While waiting to pay the bill on my first visit, I rounded the shelves to see books and music that had been written and published solely by Sri Chinmoy. There was also an album that contained photos of the aforementioned gentleman either sitting alongside famous politicians and celebrities, or lifting them using an overly complicated and excessively modified lifting device.

Sri Chinmoy lifts a twin engine Baron airplane with Hugo Girard, 2002’s “World’s Strongest Man” titleholder, 5-time Mr. Universe Bill Pearl and their wives sitting inside. Chinmoy uses a modified  standing calf raise machine.

While I haven’t found an online copy of the picture of Sri Chinmoy lifting the diminutive Hayley Westenra that I saw in person, maybe readers will appreciate the time he made a nuisance of himself in the central North Island attempting to lift 1,000 lambs.

My interest piqued, I decided to turn to the internet – not for the free meditation classes on offer, but to find out more. Despite being 2007, there was much more information out about Sri Chinmoy than there is available now. Many ex disciples had turned to blogging platforms such as Livejournal and Yahoo! Groups to share their experiences, and these have long since become defunct. Skeptical websites that had investigated Chinmoy and his operations are now dead links, taking with them any evidence that supported the scattered counterclaims that remain.

In the years following Sri Chinmoy’s death in October 2007, it appears his disciples have become internet savvy and have effectively google-bombed any negative – press unless one deliberately includes cult, scam, or fraud in their search parameters. The best repository of Sri Chinmoy information that is not curated by his organisation is the Cult Education Institute, run by Rick A. Ross. Your mileage may vary with regards to the ethics of Ross’ deprogramming work, and the absence of digital versions of the reports he includes.


My most recent visit, during my Christmas holidays in December last year, has made me decide that the amazing food is not worth its less than dismal stance on masks, vaccines, and public health. The restaurant was crowded, and diners were nearly cheek to jowl. My husband and I didn’t have a booking, but they were able to seat us near the front entrance, ironically the only place with ventilation and where social distancing was possible. While we waited for our meals, my husband took great delight in noting the poor placement of the single, minuscule QR code, and I questioned the validity of the vaccine exemption cards that were pinned to the colourful saris and white tunics of the employees.

We weren’t the only ones that noticed.

RNZ reported on December 29th that the Lotus-Heart was fined $20,000 for multiple COVID-19 rule breaches. This was followed with a further $24,000 fine on January 27th. Owner Bhuvah Thurston is reported to have not engaged with Worksafe in any capacity. After shutting down from December 31st to January 19th, the restaurant has continued its defiance by advertising itself as a “Private Contract Association”, which enables the diners to forgo wearing a mask, scanning, or being vaccinated to enter the premises.

Employing similar tactics to the Love Boat Club (formerly MAD café) in Golden Bay, Thurston hopes that by presenting Lotus-Heart as a private club under “common law” they can bypass government regulations. There is some irony in the about-turn to sovereign citizenship, a sham form of secession, given that the Lotus-Heart has claimed $154,000 from the government’s COVID-19 wage subsidy programme.

However, an unexpected development came from the Sri Chinmoy Centre of New Zealand. Director Jogyata Dallas announced on January 28th that the restaurant had its membership revoked due to its “disregard for current mandates”. Both national and international Sri Chinmoy Centre directors claim that their late guru was a champion of peace, and would have advised his students to follow government and health regulations. As of February 4th, the Lotus-Heart Restaurant continues to respond reactively. It has gone relatively silent on social media (their Instagram account is now private, and their Facebook page has disappeared), and the membership enrolment page from the main website has disappeared into the ether.

The name Sri Chinmoy may not mean much to most New Zealanders. Despite having centres located in Auckland, Hamilton, Taupo, and Wellington that host a myriad of free meditation sessions, concerts, and foot races, there are only an estimated 100 students in New Zealand.

But who was Sri Chinmoy? A guru whose followers are comfortable with attributing a decidedly un-counterculture, pro-government/pro-modern medicine philosophy to him?

It is difficult to parse fact from fiction, due to the aforementioned google-bombing; his Wikipedia entry is hardly unbiased, as it heavily relies on the writings of Sri Chinmoy and his followers. His obituaries were no more enlightening, focusing on his quirkiness and public preoccupation with running and weight-lifting – which earned him the moniker of “The Gonzo Guru” by the Chicago Tribune in the early 90s.

Chinmoy Kumar Ghose was born in what is now Bangladesh in 1931, the youngest of 7 children born to Shahsi (a railway inspector and banker) and Yogamaya. After the death of both parents in a short span of time in 1943, Chinmoy decamped to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry to join two of his elder brothers. Life within the ashram included a disavowal of alcohol, drugs, sex and politics, but where Chinmoy gained a love of athletics, especially running.

Most narratives of Chinmoy’s early life skip to his job with the Indian Consulate in New York. Ex-disciple Anne Carlton reports, as part of her testimony, that there were tensions at the ashram that hastened his departure. Carlton reports that despite encouragement to pursue his Olympic dream, life at the ashram was difficult, with insufficient food and little educational opportunities. When he was chastised for secretly visiting another ashram, Chinmoy found sponsors connected to the ashram to bring him to the US and secure him a position as a visa clerk at the Indian consulate in 1964, at age 32.

The pay was poor and he was frequently pestered by the “Mother” of the ashram to send back exotic goods to India. With interest in eastern religions rising, Chinmoy saw an opportunity to tap into the same pool of wealthy, Western devotees who supported the Sri Aurobindo ashram. He gave talks on Hinduism, earned his green card, and in 1966, left the consulate to pursue his spiritual vision.

In part 2, we’ll look deeper into the lengths Chinmoy went to transform himself into a myth, the scandals that lay underneath, and how the groups has fared in the nearly 15 years since their guru’s death.

New study shows psychic predictions are useless

Skeptics study proves psychics fail … again and again and again.

The results of the Great Australian Psychic Prediction Project, a 12-year study by Australian Skeptics, have revealed that so-called psychics’ predictions are correct only 11% of the time.

And when something momentous or calamitous happens, they are unlikely to have foreseen it.

In fact, most of what happened was not predicted, and most of what was predicted did not occur. (The Queen did not abdicate in 2003, 2004, 2012 and again in 2020; anti-gravity did not become a reality, Prince Harry did not become King, and COVID-19 did not just ‘go away’ by December 2020.)

Under the supervision of Australian Skeptics’ chief investigator Richard Saunders, the survey covered over 3800 predictions made between 2000 to 2020 by more than 200 Australian psychics. It took 12 years of diligent work by skeptics, trawling through magazines, newspapers, TV and radio, websites, YouTube, and social media, to compile as comprehensive a list of predictions as possible.

It is easily the most detailed project of its kind ever attempted in Australia, and most likely the world.

And the results:
– 11% of predictions are “correct”.
– 15% expected (as in, stating “the bleeding obvious”)
– 19% too vague
– 2% unknown
– 53% wrong

Tim Mendham, executive officer of Australian Skeptics, said “If my car mechanic was right only 11% of the time, I’d get a different car mechanic. But if, overall, all mechanics were right only 11% of the time, I’d think there was something seriously wrong with the entire industry.

“The results indicate nothing better than educated guessing – or even uneducated guessing – and certainly no better than any non-psychic could do, and probably a lot worse.”

Further results:
– The profession’s journal, the International Psychics Directory, had only 8.5% correct.
– Psychics missed such ‘minor’ events as Malaysian Airlines’ losing two planes (2014, one shot down, one disappeared), a spectacular meteor over Russia (2013), the Pope resigns (2013 – first time in 600 years), Space Shuttle Columbia disaster (2003), Summer Olympics cancelled (2020), Concorde crashes (2000), Hurricane Katrina (2005), and the deaths of Steve Irwin, Shirley Strachan, Peter Brock, Kerry Packer, Whitney Houston, Robin Williams, Prince, David Bowie, Osama bin Laden, and Michael Jackson.

And, except for a few vague or shoehorned claims, they all missed something called COVID-19.
Daniel Ryan of the NZ Skeptics said “These results don’t come as a surprise to us. We confidently predict that New Zealand psychics will have a similar rate of failure to those elsewhere in the world. We’ve seen our local psychics fail time and time again. Six seasons of Sensing Murder have shown us that psychics are useless in solving crime – there’s not a single murder they have helped to solve. It’s nice to have some detailed statistics showing how psychics operate – badly.”

A full report on the survey is published in the latest issue of Australian Skeptics’ magazine, The Skeptic, and can be found online on the Australian Skeptics website.

2021 Conference Speaker Links

Here is a list of all the speakers from our 2021 conference, with some handy links if you want to know more about them.

NZ Skeptics Announce their 2021 awards, and Dr Simon Thornley wins the Bent Spoon

Every year the New Zealand Skeptics presents its awards to people and organisations who have impressed us or dismayed us, and this year it’s been hard to pick our winners because there have been so many choices!

The Bent Spoon Award is given to the organisation or individual which has shown the most egregious gullibility or lack of critical thinking in public coverage of, or commentary on, a science-related issue. In the age of the COVID pandemic, there have been many candidates, but one individual stands out:

Dr Simon Thornley, this year’s winner, is a Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Auckland. Dr Thornley stands out as an academic who has opposed NZ’s approach to dealing with COVID. He was one of the founders of the COVID PlanB group which opposed lockdowns, and signed onto the Great Barrington Declaration.

Dr Thornley has associated himself with fringe elements in NZ’s anti-government and anti-vaccine movements (such as Voices for Freedom) and has appeared as an expert witness for lawyer Sue Grey’s cases challenging the government’s rollout of the COVID vaccine. His comments have included personal attacks and threats of legal action against other NZ scientists, and has claimed they’re corrupt and will be convicted of crimes against humanity.

Most recently, Dr Thornley promoted the use of Ivermectin as a treatment for COVID, and co-authored a paper which tried to link mRNA vaccines with miscarriages and other pregnancy complications, strongly recommending against vaccination for pregnant persons. Happily, this paper has now been retracted.

As an academic, we would expect he would know better. May he suffer the shame of being awarded the Bent Spoon! 

The New Zealand Skeptics recognises excellence in the media or in other high-profile people with our Bravo Awards. The pandemic has provided a fertile breeding ground for misinformation and disinformation. But many journalists and academics have stepped up and written pieces which explain the science behind COVID, the response to it, and also calling out those promoting misinformation and pseudoscience. The NZ Skeptics have chosen to award a record number of Bravos this year.

Siouxsie Wiles from University of Auckland, for making national and international appearances on the science behind COVID.

Toby Morris, cartoonist at The Spinoff, for creating animated explainers with Siouxie Wiles – with some great examples of effective science communication. These tools have been shared extensively, including being used by the World Health Organisation.

Charlie Mitchell, from Stuff, for a variety of investigative articles on pseudoscience promoters.

David Farrier, who runs the popular Webworm blog, for his commentary on people and groups promoting conspiracy theories; Billy TK, Sue Grey, Peter Mortlock of City Impact Church, the Tamakis from Destiny Church, and more.

Michael Baker, from the University of Otago Department of Public Health, for his science communication around COVID.

Hilary Barry, of TVNZ’s Seven Sharp, for her promotion of vaccines and for being a thorn in the side of anti-vaxxers. 

Keith Lynch, of Stuff, for some great articles around COVID, explaining complex science in an easy to digest manner.

Helen Petousis-Harris, of the University of Auckland, for her great written responses to COVID vaccine myths.

Alison Campbell, blogger and retired lecturer from the University of Waikato, for her efforts helping journalists respond to COVID misinformation, her blogging and her constant presence on social media, calling out and correcting pseudoscience in the comment threads.

Finally, the Skeptic of the Year award is given to the skeptic who has had the most impact in skepticism within New Zealand. The award comes with a year’s free membership to the NZ Skeptics, and $500 of prize money.

This year the award is being given to a group rather than an individual – FACT Aotearoa.

The FACT group describes themselves as a grass-roots information organisation, working as a resource base for media, health professionals, activists and educators. They’ve been quick to jump on misinformation being promoted online and in public.  A few of their prominent wins include contacting venues to shut down in-person anti-vaxxer events, and initiating a complaint to NZ’s Law Society about anti-vax lawyer Sue Grey.

Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill Oral Submission

The submission below was given via a Zoom call to Members of the Justice Committee on Wednesday the 15th of September 2021, as a follow-up to the Society’s written submission. The submission was presented by committee members Bronwyn Rideout and Mark Honeychurch, and MPs asked questions after the submission was read out.

The Evidence

We often hear of conversion therapy as a thing that happens in the United States of America – controversial figures such as Joseph Nicolosi, and groups like NARTH and Exodus International. So it’s been horrifying to read stories in the news over the years, and especially recently, about New Zealanders who have endured this dubious therapy.

At the NZ Skeptics, we’re all about evidence. There is no good quality evidence that conversion therapy works, and Wikipedia rightly calls it a “pseudoscience”. Not only this, but there’s a lot of evidence that conversion therapy is harmful.

Professional bodies around the world have evaluated the evidence, and broadly agree that conversion therapy should never be used. In New Zealand, the relevant professional bodies consider the practice to be against their code of ethics.

We know there was a study conducted by Robert Spitzer that is often used as evidence for the efficacy of conversion therapy, but Spitzer retracted the study, and later said “I was quite wrong in the conclusions that I made from this study. The study does not provide evidence, really, that gays can change.”

J. Michael Bailey’s 2016 review of the scientific literature concluded that “There is no good evidence that sexual orientation can be changed with therapy, and we strongly doubt it can be.”

A 2017 literature review from Cornell University looked at 47 scientific papers on conversion therapy. Of the 13 papers that were able to come to a conclusion about the therapy, 1 claimed it was successful and 12 claimed it was ineffective or harmful. The review concluded that “there is no credible evidence that sexual orientation can be changed through therapeutic intervention… There is also powerful evidence that trying to change a person’s sexual orientation can be extremely harmful.”

The evidence is clear. Conversion therapy does not work, but it is harmful.

The Legislation

The international studies we’ve seen show that most people go through conversion therapy because of their religious belief, and this is often due to pressure from their church. This has also been the case for many of the hundreds of New Zealanders who have been through conversion therapy.

Not that numbers should matter, but we’re at the point now where half of New Zealanders are not religious. There really should be no exemption for religious groups to be able to continue facilitating or offering conversion therapy. We hope that this bill will ensure that any individual – or organisation – involved in providing conversion therapy will be held accountable.

We know that health practitioners are not above making bad decisions, such as offering unproven therapies. For example, some GPs in NZ currently offer their clients therapies such as homeopathy that we know through scientific testing don’t work. It’s not a stretch to imagine that some health practitioners would consider it acceptable to offer conversion therapy. We therefore think it is unwise to give health practitioners any kind of exemption in this bill.

Many countries, such as India, Taiwan, Brazil and Germany – and parts of Australia, Canada and the US – already have conversion therapy bans in place, and Israel and the UK are currently in the process of introducing a ban. Several other countries, such as Argentina, Fiji and Samoa, have a specific ban on health professionals offering conversion therapies. We’re a little behind the curve on this important issue, but it’s great that as a country we’re finally doing something about it.

Given the lack of evidence of efficacy of conversion therapy, and the clear harms it causes, it seems like a no-brainer that we should have a law banning the practice. We hope that this new piece of legislation not only becomes law here in New Zealand, but also that it doesn’t end up being watered down to the point that it becomes ineffective. We hope to see this legislation become something that properly protects those who are at risk from being given conversion therapy, no matter who is organising or providing it. These at-risk people absolutely do not deserve to be told that their sexual orientation, or their gender, is “wrong”, and that they can be “fixed” through the use of a pseudoscientific, damaging treatment.

Submission on the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill

The NZ Skeptics’ Submission

on the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill

About us

The NZ Skeptics are a New Zealand/Aotearoa charity dedicated to education and the promotion of evidence-based practices, both in government policy and elsewhere in New Zealand public life. Healthcare decisions are an important part of this ideal, and we strongly support any measures that seek to follow best evidence and help protect consumers from harm. 

Our View

In line with our sister organisations in Australia and the United Kingdom, it is the position of the NZ Skeptics that we support the banning of conversion therapies as outlined in Section 5 of the proposed Act.

‘Conversion’ or ‘reparative’ practices incorporate a wide range of activities that seek to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. In both the past and present, such therapies have included so-called clinical treatments such aslike ice-pick lobotomies, electro-convulsive therapies, and aversion programmes that include pharmaceutical regimens that induce vomiting while church-based organisations utilise exorcisms, and intensive praying sessions (either in groups or one-on-one).

To date, no evidence has been produced in New Zealand or internationally to support the effectiveness of conversion therapies. Instead, the only consistent outcome of the practices listed above is harm and life-long trauma to those who have endured them. Reputable organisations worldwide such as the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association,  Royal Australian College of Physicians, the NHS, and the United Nations have acknowledged and published similar findings.

The absence of support from these and major regulatory and professional bodies and employers has consequently driven such practices underground. The treatments and their providers are unregulated; neither undergo rigorous and ongoing continuing education programmes or annual auditing, as required of any other professional charged with the care of the minds and bodies of New Zealand citizens.

Religious freedom is not violated when banning conversion therapy. Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief stated to British Members of Parliament that the banning of conversion therapy in no way violates freedom of religion under international law because of the state’s obligation to protect the life and dignity of LGBT+ persons.

Our Recommendations

As part of our mission to promote evidence-based policy-making and healthcare, the NZ Skeptics continually seek the advice of experts and findings of contemporary research with which to inform our positions on a variety of topics. The evidence is clear that conversion therapy is worse than ineffective, indeed it appears to be outright dangerous; provision of such therapies should be seen by New Zealanders as akin to fraud.

However, the banning of conversion therapy is not simply a health issue, but one that encompasses personal, religious, political, and societal beliefs and practices about gender diversity and identity; Elements which cannot be appreciated with statistics alone. Ongoing persecution of LGBTQIATakatāpui+ communities internationally is an ongoing concern for our organisation, and we see the presence of conversion therapy in New Zealand as a terrible proof of the insidiousness and persistence of bigotry both within our country and outside our borders. To this end, NZ Skeptics finds it vital to consider the voices and recommendations of persons who are either experienced in matters of conversion therapy, or who have been the targets of such unethical treatments, and place our support behind them.

In general we support the wording of this Bill. Here are our thoughts on the parts of the Bill that we feel need changing to ensure it adequately protects people from harmful conversion practices:

Clause 5

We do not think that health practitioners should be exempt from this Bill. We consider that the caveats in 5 (2) are sufficient to protect health practitioners who are “offering legitimate support or therapy”, and we are concerned that health practitioners could conceivably claim to be offering conversion therapy within their “scope of practice”. As such, this appears to be a loophole that we would like to see closed. We recommend the removal of 5 (2) (a) from the Bill.

We do not believe there should be an exemption for religious people or groups in the Bill, and we hope that MPs will resist any pressure from religious groups for any kind of religious exemption to be added. Similarly, we do not think that it would be appropriate for an exemption for parents to be added to the Bill. We recommend that no further exemptions are added to the Bill.

Clauses 8 and 9

We believe that organisations (companies, charities, societies, churches) are often involved in offering, organising and promoting harmful conversion therapy, and would like to see the inclusion of the ability for charges to be brought against organisations as well as individuals. We recommend the inclusion of organisations as well as people as parties to an offence.

We believe that the inclusion of only imprisonment is inadequate to allow for effective sentencing. We would also like to see a fine added, to give judges more options for choosing an appropriate sentence for the offending, and for organisations we would like to see the inclusion of appropriate sentencing options, such as the removal of charitable status. We recommend the addition of more sentencing options, such as fines.

Clause 10

We think that clause 10 is important, and that consent should not be considered a defence in this piece of legislation. We recommend that clause 10 is kept in its current state.

Clause 12

We believe that the requirement of clause 12 for consent from the Attorney-General before prosecution can occur is an unnecessarily high bar. Our understanding is that Attorney-General consent is usually required for laws where there is a significant risk of misuse of the legislation. This does not appear to be likely to be the case for a conversion therapy law, which is designed to protect minority groups who are at risk. We recommend the removal of clause 12 from the Bill.


We believe that monitoring and feedback are important, and that for new legislation to be effective, it should include a review process. For example, it would be good to see this law, when enacted, go through a review of the process and its effectiveness within its first five years, and to allow for amendments as necessary as a result of the review’s recommendations.


Finally, we would like to gratefully acknowledge the efforts of Shaneel Lal and InsideOut in their campaign, and support the important work they have done in this area.

Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission on this important piece of new legislation.

Submission on Hate Speech Proposals

NZ Skeptics submission on the Ministry of Justice Proposals against incitement of hatred and discrimination

The NZ Skeptics

We are a New Zealand/Aoteaoroa charity dedicated to education and the promotion of evidence based practices, both in government policy and elsewhere in New Zealand public life. We believe that all government policy decisions should be informed by the best available evidence from relevant groups. We believe that legislation should be based on reality and evidence, rather than on unproven ideas.

The Proposals

Our concern is regarding Proposal five, with the addition of incitement to discriminate to the Human Rights Act.

We accept that inciting others to hate a group of people for their religious belief can be (and has been) a problem in this country, and that it makes sense to have some level of legislation to protect people from this behaviour. 

Our approach is generally to criticise ideas and behaviours rather than people, and our approach is to never intentionally incite hatred of a class of people, even those we disagree with. We tend to single out people who we think are out to scam people and knowingly and egregiously promote misinformation.

We think, however, that even using insults to incite others to hate a religious belief, or to discriminate against people who hold a religious belief, should not necessarily rise to the level of being a crime.

It is important for beliefs to be open to criticism – including through the use of ridicule and insults. Beliefs are different from innate properties of a person or group of people, such as their sexuality, gender, race or national origin. A belief is not an intrinsic attribute of a person, but rather the act of believing is a personal choice. Because of this, there should be latitude for robust criticism of religious beliefs, and of those who choose to follow those beliefs – even if that criticism could be construed as being insulting or abusive, and perceived as inciting others to discriminate or hate.

It is easy to think of examples of religious groups in this country who regularly speak out against the rights of those they consider “immoral”, such as gay and lesbian couples, or those who choose to have an abortion. We do not think that it should be illegal for people to be able to use insults as a way to criticise these groups for example, even if these insults are intended to incite others to discriminate against them. We think there are occasions where groups should be discriminated against, in order to lessen their ability to spread dangerous misinformation. Denying hateful religious groups a platform from which they can speak messages of hate could be argued to be discrimination, but we think that the ability to use activism in this way is legitimate and should remain legal. We would not want to find ourselves being threatened with a lawsuit if we asked our members to boycott a hateful religious group, and used insulting language in order to make our request.

Our worry, also, is that extreme religious groups with whom we disagree, such as those who criticise gay and lesbian couples, might be afforded a different level of shielding from prosecution simply because of their perceived traditional religious roots.

We think that it is important for any legislation around religion and hate speech to differentiate between religious believers and religious beliefs. We would like to see allowance made in legislation for speech that may be considered as inciting discrimination or hatred, when that speech is aimed not at people but at their beliefs. This is especially important when these beliefs are not only wrong but also dangerous or hurtful, such as religious shunning, gay conversion therapy or taking money from the poor. Our ability to criticise these erroneous, damaging beliefs should not be curtailed.

We think that any protections given to religious groups should also be afforded to agnostics, atheists and other non-believers. Especially when it comes to ethnic groups with high levels of belief, non-believing members of those ethnic groups can find themselves targeted by hate speech for their choice to not believe. We see no reason that these people should not be protected by hate speech laws in the same way that religious people will be under the new proposals.

The case of the haunted house in Pukekohe

With the season of Hallowe’en approaching, what better time for a tale of haunting? The NZ Skeptics recently commented on the story of a purportedly haunted house in Pukekohe, currently occupied by Filipino workers. The story appeared in the NZ Herald this week.

Let’s have a look at what we know about the claimed evidence for the haunting, from the NZ Herald story:

  • Sounds, such as footsteps and crying, and somebody calling out one of the workers’ names.
  • Lights being switched on or off.
  • Descriptions of sleep paralysis
  • Awaking to a slap in the face but nobody in the room
  • Strange smells
  • Sudden drops in air temperature

A group of paranormal enthusiasts, Haunted NZ, has engaged with the workers, offering to investigate and cleanse the house of spirits.

The Haunted NZ people give a definition of what they consider to be a ghost:

“A ghost is a person who is no longer a corporeal being, they don’t have a body anymore, but they’re still the same person that they were before.”

It’s difficult to imagine how this would work. What we know, through experiments, is that the mind and consciousness result from brain function. Without an alive brain, there is no personality or consciousness that can continue to exist. To think otherwise is to support the well discredited idea of mind-body dualism.

The listed claims are all physical phenomena. How is it that non-physical entities could produce physical phenomena?

There are likely better explanations of the evidence that do not require the existence of spirits. Many of the experiences of the workers seem to have occurred around the time they fall sleep. Hypnogogic or hypnopompic hallucinations provide a good explanation for these phenomena. The brain, in a half-awake state, essentially paralyses your body. Hallucinations are also common during these times.

It is intriguing that some of the claimed phenomena align with conceptions of paranormal activity depicted in Hollywood movies. For example, the idea of somebody’s legs being grabbed and involuntarily raised and lowered is a trope. So, it appears that the workers’ experiences might well have been influenced by conceptions from popular culture.

What should we make of Haunted NZ’s claims to be able to rid the house of spirits?

Apparently, Haunted NZ will use a Wiccan approach, the “lesser banishing ritual of the pentagram” – basically magic incantations.

Haunted NZ will apparently also make use of a GeoPort spirit box. This device works by quickly scanning AM or FM radio frequencies to produce sounds that a primed mind might interpret as voices of spirits. We have a name for this – audio pareidolia – the ability of the human mind to find patterns in random noise and attach meaning to it. But, again, back to physical mechanisms – how are spirits able to influence these devices to produce the sounds?

It is plausible, however, that invocation of magic spells might well have a psychological effect on the current (physical) occupants of the house. Perhaps after the “cleansing”, the workers minds might be less inclined to put unexplained occurrences down to spirits.

The prior owners of the house also claimed to have experienced strange goings-on, and had the house blessed. Amusingly, they suggested that a previously-closed wardrobe door had been opened which let out whatever evil spirits lurked trapped within the house. What seems more likely is that rumours of the purported haunting were somehow passed on to the new occupants, thereby setting up an expectation in their minds.

From what we know about the house it is an old villa. As such, the idea of creaky floorboards and inadequate weather sealing producing creepy effects isn’t out of the realm of plausibility.

Haunted NZ have challenged NZ Skeptics to experience the reality of a haunted setting. We’ve been invited to spend a night at the Howick Historical Village in Auckland, and we endeavour to have a representative take them up on their offer. The hidden assumption here is that skeptics will be converted into believers by experiencing something out of the ordinary. This seems unlikely to me – as skeptics we look for rational explanations for strange events, and recognise the fallibility of human perception and biased thinking. It might be an interesting experience though, and a chance to have a conversation with believers and better understanding how they think, as well as being an opportunity for us to give our perspective on their approach.

We can only hope that we won’t be “pranked” with the aim of providing a mysterious, “unexplainable” happening that will turn us into believers!

We would encourage Haunted NZ and other believers to have a more open mind. Rather than jumping to conclusions that any strange and currently unexplained phenomena must be evidence of paranormal activity, they would do well to consider more rational explanations in the first instance.

When is an anti-vaxxer not an anti-vaxxer?

Answer – when they’re an ex-vaxxer!

It seems that being an anti-vaxxer is a bad thing now, in the minds of the public. Nobody wants to be labeled as such. So, people who, for all intents and purposes, are anti-vax, have started calling themselves ex-vaxxers.

To a certain extent this is literally true – people who’ve previously vaccinated but now no longer do could certainly claim such a label.

But this misses the point.

Some people have claimed that they’re not anti-vax. They just want vaccines to be tested properly (they have), and shown to work effectively (they have), or to be made “safer” by removing harmful toxins (hint: the poison is in the dose).

You don’t have to utter the words “don’t use vaccines” to be anti-vax. Spreading misinformation about the safety and efficacy of vaccines is enough to deserve the title of anti-vaxxer.

To be clear, vaccines are one of the most important and effective improvements in public health we’ve ever had. In this age of a global pandemic, you’d think people might be more aware of this.